By: Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui
On the 18th of Iyar we are cautioned to make good use of the holy day of “Lag B’omer.” In a letter to his followers, Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi writes: “Rejoice on this day…. celebrate by singing praises to G-d from the book of Psalms, and not G-d forbid by lightheaded frivolity.”
On the day of Lag B’omer, 1813 years ago, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai author of the seminal book on mysticism known as the Zohar, was preparing to leave this world. He told his son Rabbi Elazar and the students who were gathered around him: “This is an auspicious time. I am now going to reveal holy secrets of the Bible-Torah that I have never yet disclosed, so that I will arrive in the World to Come without reason for embarrassment. I see that today is a special and unique day…”
He instructed his student Rabbi Abba to write down the words he was about to say, Rabbi Elazar, his son, to repeat it and the other students to listen carefully. He then revealed to them the section of the Zohar known as Idra Zuta. At that time, the holiness of Rabbi Shimon was so intense that none of the students were able to gaze upon him, and throughout the entire day a fire surrounded the house, keeping everyone else at a distance.
Rabbi Abba recorded: “While I was in midst of writing, and Rabbi Shimon was in the middle of quoting a verse from the Bible, he stopped at the word “chaim” (life). I waited, wanting to continue, but did not raise my head to see why he had stopped, for I was unable to look at the bright light that he radiated. Suddenly, I heard a voice call out another verse from the Bible that included again, the word ‘chaim,‘ and then another voice called out another verse. I fell to the ground and wept. When the fire subsided and the light faded away, I saw that the great luminary, Rabbi Shimon, had passed away. He was lying on his right side, with a smile on his face.”
Soon afterwards, residents of nearby Tzipori came to take Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to bury him in their village, but the inhabitants of Meron (a city in the northern part of Israel) sent them away. Meanwhile, the bed, now outside the house, raised itself in the air, while a fire burned in front of it. A voice rang out, “Come and gather for the celebration of (the life of) Rabbi Shimon!” When they entered the cave in which he would be buried, another voice was heard, coming from within: “This man shakes up the world and all its kingdoms; many adversaries in Heaven are silenced because of his merit; G-d glories in him daily. Fortunate is his portion, both Above and below!”
Rabbi Elazar Azkari, who lived approximately 500 years ago, was a clerk in a house of study in Tzfas (a city in Northern Israel), and was regarded as a simple person. No one knew of his holiness, piety and scholarship. One Lag B’Omer, he traveled to the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, and while there, he met the great Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and his students and danced with them. He also danced with an elderly man, dressed in white, who was dancing with an intense joy. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria took hold of the elderly man’s hands and danced with him for a while, and then danced with Rabbi Elazar Azkari.
After leaving, the students asked Rabbi Yitzchak, “You must have danced with the elderly man because he is a great person, but why did you dance with the clerk? It is true that he is a G-d fearing person, but is it fitting for you to dance with him?”
Rabbi Yitzchak laughed and said, “If Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai danced with him, isn’t it an honor for me to dance with him as well?”
In a later account by Rabbi Asher Zelig Margolies (1941), the pilgrimage to the tomb on Lag B’omer was described in detail: “It is impossible to describe the greatness of the day, the joy and exultation … which takes place in Meron on Lag B’Omer. One can actually see that it is a day of great happiness in the upper worlds and the lower…it is actually a rejoicing like that of the world-to-come. Some who are there sing out and rejoice, exult and delight in dances of holiness, with the joy of singing holy songs; others stand wrapped in sacred emotions, pouring out their souls near the holy burial sites of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elozar…
Here and there, groups are seen with children, dancing and clapping, holding the little ones on their shoulders, distributing wine and cakes, calling out “L’chaim – to life,” and exchanging blessings.”
May the merit of this special day bless all of us and our families with all that’s good, both physically and spiritually.
To read more articles from Rabbi Ezagui visit him at http://koshercaffeine.blogspot.com/